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Published June 07 2010

It's My Job: Farrier from Erhard has always loved horses

Born a city boy in St. Paul, Robert McKinnell has found his passion in shoeing and trimming horse hooves.

He’s a farrier who travels the region from his home in Erhard, Minn., to perform his job.

McKinnell’s been doing it for 20 years.

“I’ve loved horses since I was a kid,” he said while trimming a couple of horses stabled at Sugarloaf Farm in rural Moorhead.

Q: What are you doing to this particular horse?

A: I’m trimming this horse to go barefoot. Their feet grow, so they need a trim every six to eight weeks depending on the work and nutrition and how fast their feet grow.

They stand on what would be equivalent to your fingernail except for it’s about three-quarters-of-an-inch thick and solid enough to bear their weight.

When you get excessive wear, that’s when you want to put shoes on or for some therapeutic purposes.

Did you start shoeing horses as a profession or as a hobby?

I’ve been around horses all my life. I started shoeing when I was in my late teens on a dude ranch in Wyoming.

I went to horseshoeing school after attending the University of Minnesota for five years.

I did a short ap­prentice­ship and moved back to Wyoming and have been doing it ever since.

What breeds of horses do you work with?

I’ve always liked doing a variety. I’ve shod everything from draft horses to miniature horses. I work on the whole range.

Are some breeds more of a challenge?


You put a little bit of time in training a horse to stand and it’s usually not a problem.

You’ve got to show patience when you are working with animals.

Are there many farriers around anymore?

There’s not enough.

You have to get an education, you have to develop the skill, you have to be able to work with horses, and you have to physically be able to do it. It’s highly skilled, hard manual labor.

There’s a lot of guys that go through school, they might try it for a couple of years, and then they get discouraged.

When you get out here in a barn like this when it’s 95 degrees and 100 percent humidity, you’ll feel like you should have picked a job behind a desk.

Has there been a local resurgence in the number of horse owners?

I think there’s some ebb and flow. Popularity comes and goes. But there are definitely lots of horses around. There’s plenty of work. I’m working full time right now.

How long does it take to shoe a horse?

If you’re just trimming a horse and the horse stands well, approximately 15 minutes.

If you are putting shoes on – if it’s a basic shoeing job – I allot myself approximately an hour.

What was your first exposure to horses?

My uncle had horses in Littleton, Colo. We would go visit him and I would ride. I started riding at 5-6 years old. They couldn’t get me off the horses. I’ve been like that ever since.

Do you like your job?

There’s days where it’s definitely tough. It’s a relatively simple business to run because for the most part you’re a one-man show.

I’ve got the freedom of setting my own schedule.

Readers can reach Forum Business Editor Craig McEwen at (701) 241-5502